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ESSAY ON THE ORIGIN OF THE COMPASS. - John Ramsay McCulloch, Treatises and Essays on Subjects connected with Economic Policy with Biographical Sketches of Quesnay, Adam Smith & Ricardo 
Treatises and Essays on Subjects connected with Economic Policy with Biographical Sketches of Quesnay, Adam Smith & Ricardo (Edinburgh: Adam and Charles Black, 1853).
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ESSAY ON THE ORIGIN OF THE COMPASS.
It is commonly supposed that the compass was invented by Flavio Gioja, a citizen of the once famous republic of Amalphi, near the beginning of the 14th century. Dr Robertson has adopted this opinion, and regrets that contemporary historians furnish no details respecting the life of a man to whose genius society is so deeply indebted.1 But though Gioja may have made improvements on the compass, he has no claim to be considered as its discoverer. Passages have been produced from writers who flourished more than a century before Gioja, in which the polarity of the needle, when touched by the magnet, is distinctly pointed out. And not only had this singular property been discovered, but also its application to the purposes of navigation, long previously to the 14th century. Old French writers have been quoted,2 which seem fully to establish this fact. But whatever doubts may exist with respect to them, cannot affect the passages which the learned Spaniard, Don Antonio de Capmany3 has given from a work of the famous Raymond Lully,4 published in 1272. In one place Lully says, “as the needle, when touched by the magnet, naturally turns to the north” (sicut acus per naturam vertitur ad septentrionem dum sit tacta à magnete). This is conclusive as to the author’s acquaintance with the polarity of the needle; and the following passage from the same work—“as the nautical needle directs mariners in their navigation” (sicut acus nautica dirigit marinarios in sua navigatione, etc.) is no less conclusive as to its being used by sailors in regulating their course. There are no means of ascertaining the mode in which the needle Raymond Lully had in view was made use of. It has been sufficiently established,1 that it was usual to float the needle, by means of a straw, on the surface of a basin of water; and Capmany contends that we are indebted to Gioja for the card and the method now followed of suspending the needle; improvements which have given to the compass all its convenience, and a very large portion of its utility. But this part of his “Dissertation,” though equally learned and ingenious, is by no means so satisfactory as the other. It is difficult to conceive how mariners at sea could have availed themselves of a floating needle. But, however this may be, it is probable perhaps that Gioja improved the construction of the compass; and that the Amalphitans having been the first to introduce it to general use, he was, with excusable partiality, represented by them, and subsequently regarded by others, as its inventor.
Tiraboschi, in his great work on the history of Italian literature, after showing that there is no foundation for the claims of Gioja to the invention of the compass, supposes that it may have been introduced by the Arabs.2 The same idea was taken up by his learned contemporary Andres, who has exerted himself, though with but indifferent success, to confirm the conjecture of Tiraboschi.3 It has, indeed, been alleged that the use of the needle in navigation was known from a remote period to the Chinese;1 and that that circumstance affords, at least, a presumption in favour of the opinion that we are indebted for it to the East. But the statements in regard to the antiquity of the Chinese compass have been treated with very little respect by some great authorities;2 and are much too questionable to warrant any stress being laid on them. The Chinese have never been in the habit of making distant voyages; but had the needle been used in their trading vessels, the Indians, with whom they came in contact, would no doubt have eagerly availed themselves of so valuable an invention; and they might, in like manner, have communicated it to the Arabs. There is, however, no evidence to show that the compass had been used by the Indians previously to the voyage of De Gama.3 And there are no good grounds for thinking that the Arabs had any knowledge of the instrument, or that it was ever used by them, till after the period when they might have learned it from the Venetians, the Amalphitans, and other European traders. The notion that we are indebted to them for the compass, appears, indeed, to have little else to recommend it, except that it began to become known when the Saracens became powerful in the Mediterranean. This, however, is too weak a ground on which to found a claim. And though it be impossible to speak with perfect confidence on such a subject, the fair conclusion seems to be, that the compass is a European invention; that it was discovered in the 12th or 13th century, and brought into use in some of the provinces bordering on the Mediterranean.
But whether we are indebted for the invention of the compass to the Arabs, the French, or the Italians, “its discovery,” to borrow the language of Macpherson, “has given birth to a new æra in the history of commerce and navigation. The former it has extended to every shore of the globe, and increased and multiplied its operations and beneficial effects in a degree which was not conceivable by those who lived in the earlier ages. The latter it has rendered expeditious, and comparatively safe, by enabling the navigator to launch out upon the ocean free from the danger of rocks and shoals. By the use of this noble instrument, the whole world has become one vast commercial commonwealth, the most distant inhabitants of the earth are brought together for their mutual advantage, ancient prejudices are obliterated, and mankind are civilised and enlightened.”1
[1 ] Hist. of America, vol. i. p. 47, 8vo ed. Sismondi has adopted the same theory, ante, p. 316.
[2 ] Macpherson’s Annals of Commerce, anno 1200; Rees’s “Cyclopædia,” art. “Compass,” etc. Capmany, p. 89, etc.
[3 ] Questiones Criticas, p. 73-132.
[4 ] De Contemplatione.
[1 ] See the authorities already referred to, and Azuni, “Dissertation sur l’Origine de la Boussole,” pp. 134-143.
[2 ] Storia della Letteratura Italiana, iv. 209, 4to, 1788.
[3 ] Andres, Progressi, etc., d’Ogni Letteratura, i. pp. 237-246, 4to, 1808. Capmany has animadverted on his statements in the “Questiones Criticas,” pp. 79-82.
[1 ] Davis’s Chinese, p. 277, ed. 1840.
[2 ] Capmany, p. 76, etc. The learned Mr Forster, who is anything but disinclined to underrate the obligations we are under to the Arabs, admits that they were ignorant of the compass.—Mahometanism Unveiled, etc., ii. 223.
[3 ] Azuni, “De la Boussole,” pp. 118-122.
[1 ] Annals of Commerce, i. 366.